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Army Day Thoughts:LEAVE THE ARMED FORCES ALONE, by B.K. Mathur,9 January 2006 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 9 January 2006

Army Day Thoughts


By B.K. Mathur

Come January, and the annual military rituals in the coldest month of the year: the Army Day celebrations on January 15, followed by the Republic Day festivities and finally Beating the Retreat.  Some thoughts cross the mind on the eve of the Army Day, being celebrated at a time when northern India is freezing in an unprecedented “white winter”.  Think of the hardship which our men in olive green face on the Himalayan heights in Siachen Glacier, the “ball of ice”, and lately in the Kargil and Dras sectors. Nearly 15,000 armymen are providing security to the nation in this sector after the 1999 confrontation with Pakistan, facing more problems than even in the Siachen sector.

About these problems another time.  Presently, some unhappy trends in India’s armed forces, once the envy of the entire world for their discipline, professionalism and valour proved time and again in several battles they have fought prior to freedom and thereafter. The Army Day, celebrated on January 15 every year because on this day in 1948 Field Marshal K.M. Carriappa became the first Indian to command the Indian Army, reminds one of great army traditions and value-based service under him. At once, another thought comes to mind: Indian Army then and now.

History tells us how disciplined India’s fauji was in olden days when service for a national cause was considered more important, in fact a sole criteria, than a service for self, a fast-growing tendency not only in the Indian army but also in all the three defence services. The degradation of values, fall of discipline and integrity are really a matter of great concern to the military top-brass, to the extent that not long ago a need was felt to undertake expert studies and ascertain the reasons for falling standards.  For one who has been associated with the Indian army for more than four decades, first as a trainee and then a writer, the decline looks very very sharp.

The fast-growing indiscipline, insubordination, weak and corrupt command and control have been compounded by increasing political intervention in the control of the armed forces, and in the transfers and posting at the higher command structure. This has done a lot of harm to  recruitment into the forces. The youth is just not interested in opting the forces for their career.  They have better options.  In this context it needs to be understood that unless sufficient number of youngsters, and that too of the right calibre, are forthcoming from the training academies, we may not have sufficient number of qualified Officers for the higher commands.  Further damage is done to the force, when government interference takes place in the appointment of senior commanders for political seasons.

This does not mean to suggest in the least that the Government should not have its say in the appointments, promotions and postings of senior commanders.  Democracy means control over the military. But it needs to be within limits, and not at the cost of the morale of the forces.  This again reminds one of the time when Sandhurst-trained Cariappa took over the command of the Indian army.  How political intervention had preceded Cariappa’s appointment. Not many would know today that free India’s first Army Chief may well have been Lt-General Nathu Singh, and not Cariappa.  Nehru and several others in the Government at that time had favoured Nathu Singh’s appointment. But the value-based Lt.-General did not allow that to happen and turned down the proposal on the plea that Cariappa was senior to him and that he would not like to supersede him in the interest of the force’s morale.

There are several such stories which some retired Officers who worked under Cariappa in the British Indian Army tell us now.  How strictly the General followed the dress code, off-the-unit behaviour and, above all, the value of the rank and service.  However, this is not the subject today.  Cariappa is today remembered in the context of the present state of India’s armed forces.  Today, hundreds of cases are pending in courts of law against the Court Martial decisions concerning non-compliance of orders, promotions and postings. There are several causes for this, one major and most damaging being the inferior in-take into the armed forces.

As noticed earlier, politicians often influence promotions and postings in senior ranks of the armed forces in India.  But of late the malady has unfortunately become more blatant.  The latest is the case of two Lt-Generals for whose promotions “special reviews” have taken place and, in one case, a special promotion board created, just because a senior politician and a former Union Minister was interested in the concerned Officer.  After having been denied promotion earlier, the Major-General had filed a “statutory compliant” to the Ministry of Defence, which granted “redressal” to the Officer.  He now gets the next rank, which would give him two years more in the Lt-General’s uniform.  If he had remained a Major-General he would have retired this month.

Not long ago, another “politically connected” senior Officer of the Army was promoted as Lt-General a day before he was to retire as Major-General. At that time, the Ministry suddenly created two additional vacancies of the rank of Lt-General. Such incidents obviously encourage Officers to try to use political clout to get ahead in their career even at the middle level. Remember, some time back, Air Marshal Manjit Singh Shekhon, the, then, Chief of the Southern Air Command, had written to Parkash Singh Badal, then Chief Minister of Punjab, to intercede on his behalf with the Prime Minister at that time, Atal Behari Vajpayee.  It is another matter that this came to light and Sekhon was forced to put in his papers.  Unfortunately, cases of such nature are increasing by the day.

Worse has happened to India’s armed forces recently.  The caste, region and community were never known in the armed forces.  But they are being highlighted of late, thanks to the electoral politics of India. A proposal has recently been made seeking changes in the Army’s regimental system and also reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.  The demand has been made by none other than the Chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and former Governor, Suraj Bhan. Earlier, L.K. Advani as the Dy. Prime Minister had promised to raise a Gujarat Regiment during his election campaign in Gandhi Nagar for the Lok Sabha poll in 2004.  Demands for new Regiments have also been made by senior politicians in States like Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Karnataka.

This kind of demands would do the country’s armed forces greatest harm – not only to the might of the forces and the globally known valour of the jawans, but also to its Regimental history and traditions.  It should be the earnest endeavour of both civil and military leadership to look after the interests of India’s mighty armed forces in every way.  General N.C. Vij rightly stated as the Chief of the Army Staff, our priorities should be primarily “aimed at creating a well-built war fighting machine and facing any eventuality with vigour and professionalism…”  One important requirement for this goal is to leave the forces alone. ---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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